The Australian Government has recently published the 2017 edition of the Australian Intellectual Property Report. As with previous years the report sets out the latest data, initiatives and information about the Australian IP system. This is a brief summary of some of the key points in the report and what to expect from IP Australia this year.

Australia’s IP office appears to be proactively looking for opportunities to drive innovation and value to the Australian people, using a combination of new initiatives and research, driven by greater data availability and data management tools.

Statistically, patent and trade mark activity in Australia remains steady, and design and plant breeders’ rights (PBR) filings have slightly increased on the previous year. The main Australian users of each IP registration system are SMEs and private individuals.

New Initiatives

IP Australia has identified several new initiatives slated for completion in 2017, including:

  • A database that will link the trade mark registry to a global atlas of place-names – to be launched later in 2017. This world-first data resource will allow researchers to investigate the use of domestic and international geographical terms in Australian trade marks.
  • A database of pharmaceutical substances as recorded on patent term extension applications, and patent numbers with links to public Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme expenditure data.
  • A Global Trade Marks Database. In development. At present it includes beta links between the US, New Zealand and Australian trade mark registries, and is set to include the IP Offices of the EU, UK and Canada by mid-2017. IP Australia also highlighted its launch late last year of the IP NOVA data analytics tool –accessible here https://ipnova.ipaustralia.gov.au/#/ – which allows users to search the complete patent, trade mark and plant breeder’s right registries across a range of criteria including locations, applicant identity and technology classes.

Research

IP Australia’s research projects over the last year have included: • The impact that patent expiry has on pharmaceutical usage, in terms of scripts issued and expenditure, the results of which will be published mid-2017.

  • A study by the University of California, Davis on patent grace periods which included a literature review and modelling to assist in testing how grace periods might affect innovation.
  • Analysis of patent examination (with Queensland University of Technology).

For the coming year, research projects include:

  • The impact that collaborative grants have on the patent productivity of universities.
  • Operational research to complete work on trade mark forecasting.
  • The links between R&D and patenting in Australia.
  • Ongoing analysis of the costs and benefits of joining the Hague Agreement on international designs.

Productivity Commission Report Next Steps

IP Australia flagged that the Government is currently considering the Productivity Commission’s recommendations inquiry into Australia’s IP arrangements, in advance of a further consultation with stakeholders prior to a response to those recommendations in mid-2017.

Australia’s University-Business Collaboration Scorecard

Australia has recently received negative press around engagement between its research organisations and industry with a view to commercialisation of IP. This largely arises from a single data point, being a survey used by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) where the Australian Bureau of Statistics asked innovative firms in 2013 how often they collaborate with research organisations. On the OECD measure, Australia ranked last among OECD countries on such collaboration.

In an effort to get a clearer picture of that collaboration in Australia, IP Australia conducted its own inquiry, asking the universities how often they collaborate and using the latest version of the IP Government Open Data (IPGOD) to identify IP right applications co-filed with universities and tech transfer offices of research institutions.

The results suggest that, in Australia, collaboration between universities and industry is not as poor as the above report suggests. Far from being last, on an analysis of PCT applications filed worldwide where universities co-file with industry as a percentage of total PCT filings from that country, from 2000-2015, Australia consistently ranked around 13th out of 35 OECD countries. Australia also places in the top 10 OECD countries when it comes to number of PCT applications filed by universities.

The old ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ adage comes to mind when attempting to interrogate this data. However, it does appear that, whilst the level of engagement between Australian research institutions and industry is not as dire as posited in the OECD scoreboard, there remains room for further engagement, if necessary. However, if universities are filing patent applications without industry partners, that does not mean that there is a lack of collaboration – licences can be and have been used to achieve collaborators’ ends – or that collaboration is necessary. Perhaps a more pertinent question is; if collaboration is increased, would the overall output of Australian innovation be increased? If the answer is yes, then there is a good case for putting into place initiatives to promote that engagement. Measuring the percentage of existing applications that are collaborative does not necessarily shed any light on this question, as it cannot show how many more applications would have been filed or IP rights conceived if collaboration had been greater. IP Australia has flagged for 2017 a research project looking into the impact that collaborative grants have on the patent productivity of universities. Perhaps that will touch on the above question and drive grant policy in the future.

To read the full report, please click here.

OVERVIEW OF THE NUMBERS

Patents

  • A 1% overall decline in patent filings into Australia compared with 2015. •
  • 75% of Australian resident patent filings in Australia were by individuals, and SMEs. Patents are clearly not only the domain of large corporates. • Since the GFC, annual patent filings in Australia increased by 3-4%, but that growth is not as high as the worldwide average, which was 8% for the same period. The main driver of global growth over that period was a 320% increase in filings from China.
  • Applications from other countries still account for about 91% of all Australian filings. Australia saw a 6% decline in filings by applicants from the US (which still accounts for about 45% of all patent filings). Japan, Germany, UK and Switzerland round out the top 5 places from which Australian applications originate, other than Australia.
  • The innovation patent was for the first time ever used by more foreign filers than Australians. This was again driven almost exclusively by a 142% increase in applications from China. The Productivity Commission recommended the abolition of the innovation patent, so it will be interesting to see whether this increased international uptake affects the Government’s response to that recommendation.
  • The most popular destination for Australians to file overseas was the USA, with 43% of applications. This was followed by China with 10% and the EPO with 7%.

Trade marks

  • There was a slight (3%) overall decline in trade mark filings into Australia compared with 2015.
  • Applications by foreign applicants accounted for about 34% of total filings into Australia, roughly consistent with previous years.
  • 90% of Australian resident applications in Australia were by individuals and SMEs.

Registered Designs

  • There were a record number of applications in 2016 (albeit a modest 3% increase on the 2015 figure).
  • As with patents, the USA accounted for the largest number of applications from foreign entities, with 24% of overall filings. The top 5 was rounded out by Japan, China, the UK and Germany.

Plant Breeders’ Rights

  • The number of PBR applications compared with 2015 increased by 8%. This was driven mainly by an uptick of 22% in foreign filings.
  • SMEs account for 50% of filings by Australians, and private individuals and large firms account for 25% each. • The USA remains the largest foreign PBR filer, with 21% of applications. Rounding out the top foreign filers are the Netherlands, NZ, France, UK and Germany.
  • IP Australia has reduced the number of personnel able to register PBRs, with the result that registrations are not being granted at the same rate as previous years.